Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Hardy as the Dark Knight: Pessimism in the Return of the Native

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Hardy as the Dark Knight: Pessimism in the Return of the Native

Article excerpt


Thomas Hardy's fiction are all set against the bleak and forbidding Wessex landscape, whose physical harshness echoes that of an indifferent, if not malevolent, universe, where men and women are merely the slaves of their fates and are at the mercy of some indifferent forces that shape their destiny. The aim of this study is to examine and determine how the narrative reflects the mood that Hardy creates in his novel. The study is centred around an extensive study of one of his most famous novels The Return of the Native. Hardy's extensive depiction of the setting allows readers to better understand and interpret the actions, emotions and moods of the characters. The distinctive portrayal of the characters, the use of mythological allusions, diction and the implications of various symbolism customary of Hardy, make readers delve deeper into the abyss of utter despair from where there is no return.

Key words: Pessimism; Mood; Setting; Fate; Symbolism

While it is impossible to classify Thomas Hardy as an optimist novelist, it is clear that pessimism pervades in most of his novels. Despite Hardy's insistence that his work does not reflect a sense of pessimism, critics have accused Hardy of being a severe pessimist. Most of his poetry as well as his novels manifest a dark, brooding air about them. Interestingly, most of his famous novels like Tess of the D'Urberviles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure and The Return of the Native are extremely pessimistic in their overtone.

Hardy strongly opposed to critics' accusation of being a pessimist with the claim that he was meliorist, a person who believes that the universe tends toward improvement and that human beings can enjoy this progress as long as they recognize their proper place in the natural order of things:

"People call me a pessimist; and if it is pessimism to think, . . . that 'not to be born is best,' then I do not reject the designation. . . . But my pessimism, if pessimism it be, does not involve the assumption that the world is going to the dogs. . . . On the contrary, my practical philosophy is distinctly meliorist" (Millgate, p.410).

Yet, the world Hardy portrays in his novels is severely somber and forbidding which allows critics to doubt his principle of meliorism. Even in The Return of the Native, the texture of the dreary narrative suggests the bitter ironies of which life is capable-an almost malevolent staging of coincidence to emphasize the disparity between human desire and ambition on one hand and what fate has in store for the characters on the other. The sense of the waste and frustration involved in human life is part of the mood he creates with his narrative in The Return of the Native.

In The Return of the Native, Hardy devotes the first chapter to a dramatic description of Egdon Heath, which slowly emerges as the greatest tragic power in the novel. The mood which seizes the readers at the very outset is one of absolute gloom and despondence, keeping in pace with Hardy's melancholic vision. The description "the untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now was it always had been" (p.56) characterizes Egdon Heath as timeless, wild and redundant, being "full of watchful intentness" and waiting for "a last crisis-the final overthrow" (p.54). The Heath thus emanates an inherent sense of inevitable tragedy which sets the overwhelming tone of the novel.

The real feeling of tragedy in The Return of the Native comes from the setting. As D. H. Lawrence appropriately points out in Study of Thomas Hardy;

"What is the real stuff of tragedy in the book? It is the Heath. It is the primitive, primal earth, where the instinctive life heaves up. There, in the deep, rude stirring of the instincts, there was the reality that worked the tragedy. Close to the body of things, there can be heard stir that makes us and destroys us" (Norton, p.418).

For Lawrence, obviously the Heath is the "somber", "latent" power, to whom it does not matter who dies or lives a life of misery any more than "the withering heath, the reddening berries, the seedy furze, and the dead fern of one autumn of Egdon"(Study of Thomas Hardy). …

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